CLARKSVILLE, Ind. (AP) — Indiana is preparing to build a $255 million tunnel in Kentucky as part of a long-planned Ohio River bridge even as questions linger in both states over whether the costly tunnel is really needed.
The tunnel will be built to preserve 11 acres of Kentucky woodlands in the Interstate 265 bridge’s path because the site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Although the land’s value is widely disputed — even in Kentucky — The Indianapolis Star reported in a story published Sunday that preservationists who hoped to stop the bridge secured a historic designation decades ago.
As a result, Indiana is preparing to pay $255 million for a tunnel project that opponents insist will be a taxpayer boondoggle.
“The tunnel is a terrible abuse of taxpayers’ money. It’s an outrage in terms of what it accomplishes versus the cost,” said Anne Northup, Louisville’s congresswoman from 1996 to 2006.
The tunnel is part of the I-265 Ohio River bridge that will be built in 2013 as part of two-bridge, $2.6 billion plan to ease traffic congestion around the Louisville metropolitan area, which includes parts of southern Indiana.
Under a deal reached by the two states, Indiana agreed to build the I-265 bridge and tunnel, while Kentucky will expand the existing Interstate 65 bridge to the southwest. Each state will pay about $1.3 billion.
Indiana already is currently seeking contractors to bore a 1,940-foot-long tunnel under one corner of the 55-acre National Register plot that’s known as the Drumanard property. The project will be the first tunnel the Indiana Department of Transportation has ever built along a highway, said Jim Stark, INDOT’s deputy director for capital projects.
But highway officials on both sides of the river have heard complaints about the tunnel from local officials and residents.
Clarksville Town Council President John Gilkey said many residents in the southern Indiana city believe the property that the tunnel will go beneath “has almost no historical significance.”
Jefferson County, Ky., and a Louisville preservation group called River Fields didn’t want the bridge to disturb the picturesque setting in the affluent community northeast of downtown Louisville.
After a lengthy push, the county’s preservation office obtained a National Register listing in 1992 for the Drumanard property, which includes a 1929 Revival-style house that rises from a hilltop on the quiet, once well-manicured wooded property at the foot of the proposed bridge.
The home is not in the path of the bridge, which will go through densely wooded and unused land at the north end of the property.
The National Register listing was based in part on the fact that Frederick Law Olmsted’s firm — a once-prominent firm that had a hand in designing New York’s Central Park — prepared a landscape plan for the Drumanard property a century ago.
Yet it was never clear how involved Olmsted was in Drumanard. And in December, a Louisville resident and Indiana businessman appealed to remove the land from the register, contending that the property is not historic and the tunnel would be “a complete and utter waste of taxpayer dollars.”
The Kentucky Heritage Council, a state agency charged with historical protections, denied the request in January.
Jane Jankowski, spokeswoman for Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, said the governor’s office supports moving forward with the project.
“The bridges are critical to the growth of the Louisville and southern Indiana region, and there are huge job and economic development possibilities for southeast Indiana,” she said.